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Hamburg bookkeeper sent to prison for stealing $260,000 from employer

A bookkeeper from Hamburg who betrayed the trust of two employers by embezzling from them was sentenced Thursday to up to eight years in prison, but not before she was excoriated in Erie County Court by her victims’ family and the judge.

“This was someone we regarded as not just an employee but a friend,” Jarrett Gilden said of Joan Joyce. Joyce, 57, worked for ECC Electrical Construction, a company Gilden’s father built, when she stole $263,135 to support her gambling addiction.

She pleaded guilty in February to one count of second-degree grand larceny for the theft and five counts of first-degree offering a false instrument for filing for lying about her illicit income on her state income tax forms.

Gilden’s remarks were short but sharp. He told how Joyce had spent time at his parents’ home, how she came to his wedding and his family attended her mother’s funeral.

They did more than that, they later found out.

“She paid for the funeral with a check from Dad’s company,” Gilden said bitterly.

As his parents watched from the courtroom, Gilden also told how, after she was caught, Joyce made promises of restitution. Instead of trying to repay the money, however, she tried using different names and addresses so they couldn’t find her, and she kept gambling online, he said.

The financial loss and the stress of the personal betrayal damaged his parents’ health along with their security, Gilden concluded, and he asked Judge Kenneth F. Case to give her the harshest sentence possible.

Joyce initially had denied taking the money and, when pressed, suggested amounts far smaller than what investigators proved she stole.

Even her attorney said he believes she “continues to minimize” her gambling problem in her own mind. He said she gambled away her own income along with the money she stole, which is why some of the embezzled funds were used for personal expenses, including a down payment on a car and a computer.

While Joyce told the court that she took full responsibility for her actions and had deep regrets for what she had done, Case was more than skeptical.

“Mr. Gilden worked incredibly long hours, six, seven days a week, for years on end to develop this company,” Case said, so his family could have a secure future and so he and his wife could enjoy their “golden years.

“You stole that from them,” the judge said. “Letters (from her friends) said that you put others first all the time. You certainly didn’t do that for these people.

“(The letters) also referred to your ‘mistake.’ This was no mistake,” Case said. “It was methodical and it was a continuing criminal enterprise. Had you been charged for every time you stole from this family, I don’t think there is enough paper to print the charges on.”

Apparently Joyce also said in her own letter to the judge that she is not looking back with revenge or anger, and that she hopes to make her life better for herself and her family – statements the judge found more offensive than encouraging.

“I didn’t see anything in this about how sorry you are that you devastated this family or about making their lives better,” he said.

Joyce has a prior grand larceny conviction for stealing from her previous employer, Lakeshore Metals, so she was sentenced as a second felony offender. When he accepted her plea to the full indictment in February, Case committed to the sentence he pronounced Thursday: an indeterminate period of four to eight years in prison for the larceny, plus one and a half to three years for each of the tax charges, to run concurrently.

Joyce also was ordered to pay back the $263,135. 37 she stole as well as $15,150 she owes the state in back taxes, although her attorney told the court that she has nothing to sell or to show for her crimes. She lost everything at the casino.

Assistant District Attorney Brian P. Dassero prosecuted the case.